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Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Illyrian Spring
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on 13 August 2017
A book I have read and re-read many times. Mental comfort food with a good deal of wisdom in it. Her best book, I think
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on 25 May 2017
You have to turn the pages quickly to continue the absorbing story.
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on 16 March 2017
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on 26 October 2012
I loved this book. I picked it up straight from the horse's mouth - published by Daunt's and in their fabulous Marylebone High Street shop. But I digress.

I'm a great fan of the 1930s novel to start off with - having waltzed my way through my grandparents' library, built up in that era. Many of these books have dated badly in language and mores, though they remain entertaining reads written in a distinctive style: others are beautifully crafted, combining both literary writing and clarity of expression (the two don't always go together).

This one belongs to the latter category. The quality of the writing is superb. The lead character takes a holiday from her life with her husband and adult children, and a chance encounter with a young man changes them both: she is an established painter, he is an aspiring one, whose parents disapprove of his choice of career. For a book about painters and painting, the writing is appropriately visual: the local colour is established so vividly it unfolds before your eyes. Unlike many landscape artists, the author can also paint figures - we care about the characters and their interior lives, and want to keep reading to the very last page.

Although ultimately an escapist novel, it treats large themes with the care and attention they deserve and it's sometimes a bit Jane Austen-esque with a great deal of sly, understated humour.

Though "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" is a more obviously humorous novel, if you loved Miss Pettigrew, you'll love meeting Lady Kilmichael.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 June 2012
It astonishes me that Ann Bridge is so unread these days. For anyone new to her work, Illyrian Spring is a wonderful place to start. It's one of those novels where the plot is almost an incidental pleasure. The real joy here is the freshness and acuity of Bridge's prose. Just like the two artists who are her romantic protagonists, Bridge can evoke the arid landscapes and peaceful villages of 1930s Dalmatia with just a few deft strokes. The plot itself revolves around the aristocratic Grace Kilmichael, who in her early 40s suddenly loses patience with her three demanding children and her distant, possibly unfaithful husband. She escapes by means of the Orient Express to the sunlit Adriatic, to resume her long-abandoned career as a painter. There she meets Nicholas Humphries, half her age, but who like her is on the run from an uninspiring destiny. Unhappy with the prospect of becoming an architect, he has come to Dalmatia to follow his true vocation - painting. As their relationship shifts and deepens, Bridge handles its evolving complexities with tact, sensitivity and real emotional insight. There's a narrative tautness here too, which never slackens despite the many delightful detours on which Bridge leads us through the flower-strewn hills of Dalmatia in springtime.

Hats off to Daunt Books for putting a huge amount of love and devotion into this excellent re-issue. This is a real bibliophile's paperback. The typesetting is deft and crisp, the paper is smooth, fine and creamy to the touch, the endpapers are tastefully patterned. Books as good as this are the Luddite's reward for refusing to own a Kindle!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 June 2015
This is an absolutely charming light read which will have you booking a holiday to Croatia.
Written in 1935 it is the story of well-to-do artist Grace Kilmichael who is 'running away' from her family to decide what to do next. Her economist husband seems to scorn her and her work (and perhaps to be getting overly friendly with a female colleague) while her 19 year old daughter Linnet is starting to belittle her too. As the author observes:

"Tenuous, elusive but tenacious, this tradition of inferiority persists - subtly imposed by the husbands; tacitly and often unconsciously acquiesced in by the wives. Their views, somehow, are worth less than men's; the moral initative has passed from them; in some strange way - whether consciously or not - they are subordinate. Now this subjection was tiresome and fatiguing enough while it was subjection to one person only, the husband, but for Lady Kilmichael's generation it had suddenly become subjection to their children as well, and when it reached that stage it became insupportable."

So our heroine makes her way to Venice and thence to the Dalmatian coast (Croatia) (the Virago edition has a helpful map at the front showing the places, many of which have changed since the book was published.) While painting, wandering round ancient buildings and taking in the beautiful scenery she meets up with a young man, Nicholas, deeply unhappy at his father's insistence that he abandon his beloved painting for a 'proper' career in architecture. The two of them spend some sublime - and innocent - weeks in Illyria, and Lady K starts to 'find herself'...

Ann Bridge's descriptions of the country are quite exquisite - hills covered in irises, obliging and picturesque locals, wonderful little restaurants. Somehow I couldn't massively warm to Nicholas: perhaps it was his slight grumpiness, or maybe his gastric problems ("my tummy") . The author has a serious message about the true nature of freedom, but expect a rather convenient ending. I could imagine this making a 1930s movie.
Probably more 3.5 than 4 *.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 22 March 2017
Ann Bridge's 'Illyrian Spring', first published in 1935, focuses on the very attractive Lady Grace Kilmichael, a well-known painter, who has been married to Walter for over twenty years and has three grown-up children: two sons, Teddy and Nigel who are at Cambridge, and a nineteen-year-old daughter, Linnet. Feeling that her very intelligent economist husband criticises and belittles her, and worried that he might be about to embark upon an affair with a colleague, Grace is also upset by her belief that her daughter finds her a silly fusspot. Making the decision to leave her family and not sure whether she is escaping for good, Grace boards the Orient Express and travels to Paris and Venice en route to the Dalmatian coast. On her travels she meets Nicholas, who is the nephew of an old school friend and a young man who yearns to become an artist, but is instead being pushed into a career as an architect by his rather over-bearing father. When Nicholas learns that Grace paints, he appeals to her to become his teacher and Grace, flattered by his attentions and pleased that, unlike her own children, Nicholas seems to admire and respect her, she agrees to help him with his painting. As the pair spend an increasing amount of time together surrounded by beautiful scenery, they find their relationship growing and deepening, and Grace has to face the possibility that her young friend could be falling in love with her - but what does she decide to do? After all, she is a long way away from home, her husband and children don't seem to appreciate her anymore, and could it be that now is the time for her to think of herself for once?

Exquisitely written and with some wonderful descriptions of situation and setting, Ann Bridge's 'Illyrian Spring' is a novel which, although very much 'of its time', still has a relevance and I found it a pleasure to read. Ms Bridge handles Grace's and Nicholas's burgeoning feelings for one another with perception and sensitivity and at no point does the reader feel the story is going to descend into a clichéd story of an older woman's desire for a much younger man, or vice versa. Instead this is an insightful story of a middle-aged woman's rediscovery of herself and of her relationship with her husband and children, and although this novel does have its tiny faults (and the descriptions of the scenery, although absolutely exquisite, do sometimes make it feel as if we are reading a piece of very well-composed travel writing), I was caught up in Grace's life and thoroughly enjoyed this intelligent and evocative escapist story.

4 Stars.
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on 16 February 2014
A novel about a female painter who feels trapped in an unsatisfactory marriage and takes time out from it in Illyria. On the way she meets a much younger man and most of the novel is about their evolving relationship and how it leads the painter to discover a lot about herself. This is a delightful book, full of emotional insight. I have given it four rather than five stars because, particularly in the first half, there is rather too much loving description of places for my taste - a few pages read more like a travel book than a novel. But this did not seriously detract from my enjoyment.
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on 14 November 2016
This is a delicious 1930s novel about a 40-something aristocratic painter, Lady Grace Kilmichael, who escapes her inattentive husband and ungrateful grown children for a break in Dalmatia (present-day Croatia.) En route via Venice, she meets another would-be painter on the island of Torcello, an Englishman named Nicholas, who is in his early 20s. The two embark unwittingly on a romantic relationship as 'Lady K' acts as the young man's mentor.

The insights in this story about middle-aged married relationships, and those between parents and almost-grown offspring, feel fresh and certainly not 80 years old. Grace feels as if 'no one really needed her any more.' Her husband, Walter, reacts to her by telling her 'not to get worked up' and a typical attitude from her children is 'Buck up and finish the old picture, Mums darling - I want a new car.' I am sure there are plenty of middle-aged women today who can identify with that!

There's plenty of humour in the story, in a social-observation Mitford-type style, even if some of this is very much of its time. For example, in a very stiff-upper-lip manner, an attempted rape is brushed off as a 'tiresome episode.' But how about this observation in the light of the recent referendum? 'Like many English people, she tended unconsciously, in her heart of hearts, to think of Europe, taking it by and large, as a Dark Continent, full of foreigners ...'

I found the ending a little too convenient and somewhat trite, but that didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book, which also contains some glorious descriptions of the landscape and flora around Dubrovnik.

I was also thrilled to discover that Ann Bridge was none other than Cottie Sanders, who I'd read about in a biography of George Mallory. Ann/Mary/Cottie was a mountaineer and climbing companion of Mallory while in her late teens and early twenties, but whether there was also a romance between them is not known.
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on 6 January 2014
As someone who lives in modern Dalmatia I was attracted to this title, when I read it I got a glimpse of places I know well as they were in the latter 1930s but the best thing about this book is its treatment of degrees of love without the modern obsession sex, i re-read the book in an analytic way and found great help from it.
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